"The animal ethics movement has progressed over the past decade," explained Angel Murray, executive director for the DC-based Human Rights for Animals (HRA). "It used to be about liberating farm animals from indentured servitude and lab rats from cruel treatment. Now it's about giving these living creatures the same rights we humans enjoy."
Those rights lurched forward last year in a test case in Ohio, when the Cincinnati Zoo thought it would be cute if two of the monkeys held a marriage ceremony. The monkeys had long been in a monogamous relationship. Punky and Elvira, two female red-faced Japanese macaques, had lived in the zoo together for the past 15 years. Together, they've raised three adopted juvenile monkeys. At first, the marriage ceremony was considered an adorable stunt, dreamed up by the primates' longtime keeper. But activists, who keep a close watch on zoos in particular, seized the opportunity to further animals' rights.
"These monkeys are the Rosa Parks and Ellen Degeneres of the animal movement rolled into one couple," Murray said. "There's absolutely no reason why two monkeys in a committed, loving relationship should be denied their constitutional rights. Therefore we demanded the wedding be more than just a sham ceremony; it should carry the full weight of the law."
The state of Ohio balked over whether they should issue a marriage license. In response, the Christian Coalition also jumped into the fray. Within weeks, lawsuits and petitions were flying.
"Traditional marriage is under attack," said Roberta Crombs, president for the Christian United Movement. "Animals marrying? That's beyond being 'under attack.' These zealots have scaled the walls and society has begun to crumble!"
In an interview in the April issue of Christianity Today, Crombs candidly added, "What next? A worm marrying itself?"
The Christian United Movement has successfully--if only temporarily--halted the marriage of Punky and Elvira. The case is currently working its way through the Ohio court system. Surprisingly, the legal issues have proven more compelling and difficult than first imagined. The case has raised important and perplexing questions, such as, "Who can request rights and privileges for a living creature that is unable to articulate his or her own wishes?" And, "If two animals marry, what rights will they receive--inheritance, hospital visitation, and perhaps one day, legal adoption of an entirely different species?"
Oral arguments are scheduled for next month at the Ohio Court of Appeals. No matter the outcome, it is expected that the case will be appealed--perhaps all the way to the Supreme Court.